7 Nutrition Tips to Navigating a Healthy and Balanced Holiday
By Lara Zakaria — ©12/2018
Trying to avoid putting on that classic winter weight? Year after year, that scale starts to budge up this time of year, leaving you feeling bloated and frustrated. You’re not alone, most of us struggle finding navigating a healthy and balanced holiday season.
It can happen to the best of us. You’re on a roll for months, eating healthy, getting your workouts in, and staying on plan. But it’s inevitable – pumpkin spice season roles up and all of a sudden, it’s parties, and cocktails, and big dinners – oh my!
Generally, I try to say pretty low carb overall, leaning on a plant-based “paleo-ish” diet (it’s simply what works for me and personally makes me feel best). But as the weather starts to cool down, there is something just so enticing about those Fall and Winter treats. I find myself gravitating to more sugary foods and drinks.
Decadent warm pumpkin spice lattes, winter-themed cocktails with creamy liquor or ginger beer, holiday parties with tempting appetizer platters, and family dinners with all the classics (and then some!). As if that’s not enough, this year I got to celebrate 3 weddings in addition to birthdays and housewarmings!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m eternally grateful to have the opportunity to indulge during the holidays and for the time I get to spend with my loved ones from near and far. But I also really value being healthy and feel like I can be most present when I invest in my health and maintain my selfcare routine. That includes how I nourish my body with food.
For the record, I’m not here to tell you that you should punish yourself for enjoying a holiday meal (and even dessert!). You don’t need to starve yourself or do double workouts to “pay” for your extra calories.
In recent studies about longevity, researchers found that maintaining meaningful relationships may be just as (possibly more) important as eating right and exercising. That means that the extra calories you eat during the holiday season are less likely to affect your health long-term if you’re enjoying them with friends and family. Key word: ENJOY.
So, with that said, allow me to offer you the following suggestions to find your balance of healthy this holiday season:
- Start hydrating early. With all the parties, the holidays are a time for boozy cocktails and extra wine. So, if you’re not compensating by hydrating a little extra, you’ll arrive at the holiday table already dehydrated. Start your day with water (try warm lemon water for extra credit), hydrate throughout the day, and choose fruit flavored water instead of dehydrating drinks like soda, coffee, or alcoholic beverages whenever possible.
- Introduce “smart carbs” into your winter routine. If you’re feeling the sugar cravings creep up during the cooler months, this is a good time to introduce some mineral-dense, grounding root veggies into your routine. I love roasting butternut squash, sweet potatoes, onions, and beets along with cruciferous favorites like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. They make an amazing dish topped with olive oil, tahini (ground sesame paste),and aromatic herbs to curb carb cravings. Experiment with delicious winter one-pot stews and soups that feature root veggies – super easy and great to have on hand when hunger strikes!
- Balance your meals and snacks with protein, fiber-rich veggies, and healthy fats. Even when you indulge in more bread than usual, sugary treats, and decadent beverages – and this is important – do not skimp on the healthy stuff! So many of my clients attempt to “save calories” by skipping out on the main meal not realizing they’re setting themselves up for a vicious cycle of sugar crashing and cravings that lead to more binging. When you eat your veggies, protein and good fats you will help keep blood sugar and insulin levels balanced, helping you avoid crashes and more sugar cravings.
- Lighten up your cocktails. You don’t need to give up cocktails entirely, instead think about how much sugar is loaded in your drink. Most of us end up imbibing more frequently during the holidays at various parties and celebrations. Out socializing? Consider skipping high calorie beer and creamy drinks like eggnog, or those that contain simple syrup, ginger beer, triple sec, juice or sodas. Instead, opt for mixers like club soda with fresh fruit or herbal infusions like mint or fresh cranberry or just a splash of juice. Hot toddies and wine are usually safer choices. Alcohol makes us lose our inhibitions so we’re more likely to binge on foods we normally wouldn’t eat, so have a balanced meal or snack (see tip #3) before you drink and stay hydrated to stay in control. (Pro tip: one glass of water for every serving of alcohol).
- Plan your holiday get togethers around activities instead of around food. Seeing friends from out of town? Plan a hike or a ski trip instead of happy hour. Family football games, tag, or soccer can be a great tradition. Plan a long walk, ice skating, or bike ride after brunch or dinner. If the weather doesn’t permit outdoor fun, play board games or active games like charades or twister. The idea here isn’t to burn off extra calories (though that’s a nice side effect), but rather to keep you busy and away from mindless snacking.
- Eat mindfully during your meal. It’s easy to get caught up and with everything around you and forget to really focus on and enjoy your meal. Slow down, take a few deep breathes before you begin eating and really take in all the delicious scents. Take a moment to express your gratitude for the meal, all the variety of colors and flavors. Take your time to chew well, enjoy the flavors, and take a break – put your fork down and get lost in the conversation and company of the loved ones that surround you. This practice can go a long way in keeping you from overeating and even the meal even more memorable.
- Experiment with healthier recipes and offer to contribute to the meal. There’s no reason not appreciate traditional foods with a modern healthy twist. Avoid highly processed white flour, sugars and vegetable oils – swap them out for nut flours, natural sweeteners, and heart healthy fats like olive or avocado oil. Try some recipes using dates, apple sauce, pumpkin, maple syrup, and ghee. Trust me your family will only notice how much better it tastes! To get you started, below are 2 of my favorite holiday (or any day) classic recipes with a twist.
Prep: 10 mins
COOK: 25 mins
READY IN: 35 mins
- 1 Tablespoon ghee or olive oil
- 1 medium Head Cauliflower cut into large florets, stem sliced ½
- 1 butternut squash, peel, seed and cut into ¾ -inch cubes
- 1 medium Yellow Onion chopped
- 2-4 cloves of garlic, mince
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika (optional)
- Sea salt to taste
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- Heat the ghee or oil in a large cast-iron pan over medium heat. Add the cauliflower, butternut squash, onion, garlic, and seasoning. Mix to coat the vegetables in the oil and spices; stir frequently for 8 minutes.
- Turn down the heat to low and add the broth. Cover and cook until the vegetables are completely tender, 10–15 minutes.
- Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor and pulse the mixture until it is creamy. You may also use a potato masher if you don’t have a food processor. It will be thick, similar to the consistency of mashed potatoes. You may need to add a little more water to thin out the mixture out to desired consistency (but be careful not to add to much).
- Check seasoning and add more as needed. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Roasted Root Veggies
PREP: 15 mins
COOK: 30 mins
READY IN: 45 mins
- Favorite mix of root veggies: Carrots, beets, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, onion, sweet potatoes, turnips, yams (diced into equal size 1-inch squares)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried sage and basil
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon chili pepper (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large bowl, mix all ingredients until well combined.
- Place in a baking dish, bake for 20 minutes, then switch to broil (high) and cook for another 10 minutes to crisp vegetables.
Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce
- ¾ cup pineapple, diced
- 1 Lemon, juiced
- 1 Pomegranate, seeded
- 2 cups cranberries
- Small pinch of sea salt o taste
- Mint leaves (to garnish)
- In a food processor, blend orange, lemon, pomegranate. Add the cranberries at the end and pulse briefly until coarsely chopped
- In a medium sized sauce pan, bring the mixture to a slow boil on medium high. Turn down the temperature to low and allow to simmer for another 15 minutes. The liquid should evaporate enough to leave you with a thick
- Serve with mint leaves garnish
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